Project will develop potential business owners

Published 8:30 am Friday, November 17, 2023

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Lunenburg County’s economy could get a shot in the arm thanks to a new state funded project. Would-be business owners will be able to get support and training to succeed in starting or growing a company, through the Community Navigator program. 

Originally created through President Joe Biden’s American Rescue Plan, the project’s federal funding helped set up the framework for how it’ll operate. Then in October, a $600,000 grant from the Virginia governor’s office helped provide money to support those first applicants, when it goes live in January 2024. The navigator program will be based at the SOVA Innovation Hub in South Boston, helping would-be employers in a handful of counties. In addition to Lunenburg, that includes Amelia, Brunswick, Charlotte, Halifax, Mecklenburg, Nottoway, Patrick and Prince Edward. But it’s not as simple as just showing up and asking for money. You need an innovative pitch, trying to create something unique. 

“The overall goal is to help more entrepreneurs get connected to resources to startup, grow and scaleup innovative businesses,” said Lauren Mathena. In addition to her position as Director of Economic Development for Mid-Atlantic Broadband Communities Corp., Mathena is a team member at the Innovation Hub. 

Director of Educational Innovation and Entrepreneurial Ecosystems at Longwood University Jacob Dolence helped design the community navigator program. He said the goal is to put best practices from other rural areas to work locally.

“In a way, navigators are almost like ‘startup scouts,’ relationship builders and connectors. They provide a plethora of ‘front doors’ into the ecosystem,” Dolence said.

Mathena said they will work to bring together people, organizations and culture to cultivate business creation and growth in the region’s diverse rural economy and large geographic spread.


Entrepreneurs can get involved with the navigators program by joining the email list and by applying to the Business Bootcamp, Mathena said. Potential entrepreneurs and existing business owners can learn more about both of those things and apply for the upcoming bootcamp at sovarise. com/business-bootcamp. 

“Entrepreneurs who participate in the Winter 2024 Business Bootcamp and whose businesses meet criteria will also have access to the navigator program,” she said. 

Having just been awarded the grant funds, navigators have not been hired yet, with the program set to begin early next year. 

Leveling the playing field for entrepreneurs by connecting them to personalized resources can create durable and vibrant economic growth in the region, Dolence noted. 

“Navigators will simultaneously see the ‘big picture’ of traded sectors, state priorities and upcoming opportunities, while strategically helping entrepreneurs to align with and take advantage of tangible steps towards success,” he said. 

A Forbes magazine article that Mathena cited points to research showing businesses with fewer than 500 employees create nearly two-thirds of all new jobs and drive innovation. 

“According to data from the Small Business Administration (SBA), small businesses create two-thirds of new jobs, increase competition among businesses, and are often the forces behind innovation and positive adjustments in efficiency,” Mathena said. “Research also supports that startup businesses create most new jobs, but often this research is referring to startups that receive venture capital, which are not necessarily the types of businesses that we are seeing yet.” 

There are exceptions, she noted, such as the company Circ in Danville that has just been nominated for a global Earthshot Prize for its innovations in textiles. 

Mathena said counties in the region are supporting start-up businesses and helping existing businesses expand when they invest in broadband, site infrastructure and the Longwood Small Business Development Center. 


On the large scale, Mathena also argued that counties can’t do it alone. They need to work together in order to build a strong economy. 

“In rural areas, working as a region is essential, and that is happening through partnerships such as the Heartland Regional Business Park and others,” Mathena said. 

The efforts of all these groups focused on building the local economy have been aided by Longwood University and Hampden-Sydney College as they build and expand their existing entrepreneurial curriculum. 

“The two schools will offer classes for students and community members at the SEED Innovation Hub that is in the works in downtown Farmville,” Mathena said. “Faculty from each institution have been involved with the entrepreneurship training, including youth entrepreneurship education, regional pitch competitions and facilitation of the Business Bootcamp.” 

The new community navigators will be connected to the school’s faculty and the future SEED Innovation Hub resources. 

“The entrepreneurs in the program will receive mentorship and guidance from participating faculty if they wish,” she said. 

Entrepreneurs interested in being part of this program can contact the team at More information on the program can be found online at